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In 2016, University of Minnesota Regents approved a $104.5 million renovation and addition project for Pioneer Hall, the U’s oldest and first residence hall. The hall, now 88-years-old, had become an outdated facility that didn’t meet building codes, wasn’t handicap accessible, and lacked many of the comforts students wished they had — read rooms that were only accessible by multiple staircases, misshapen dorm rooms, bats, ghosts — you name it, according to an article in Minnesota Daily.


Clearly an update was needed, and Regents chose in favor of restoration instead of demolition. Kevin Ross, a senior project manager with the University’s Capital Planning and Project Management, told Minnesota Daily, “preserving the building’s historic structure played a major role when talking about possible renovation ideas.”

The project will preserve the character-defining features of the original building – the most notable feature being the historic red brick exterior – while gutting much of the interior.


Mortarr subscriber Wells Concrete, a subcontractor on the project, is playing a key role in ensuring Pioneer Hall’s character-defining features are retained.


The majority of Wells’ work is being done in the expansion of the south and north courtyards.


“A great deal of ingenuity was put into producing the architectural precast panels to match the historical look of the building,” says Dan Juntunen, Wells’ President and CEO. “Many of the panels have windows with architectural precast frames and an intricate cornice, all surrounded by cast-in brick. The brick itself is laid in a Flemish bond and is a blend of three brick colors chosen to best match the color of the original brick. The frames around the windows were made using 3D printed molds, and the updated look is brought together with rollcast panels made using the title table in our Albany, Minn., production facility.”


Wells also did work on the entryway renovations on the west and east sides of the building, and in addition to the architectural wall panels; hollowcore, solid slabs, double tees, and beams were used to create the floor and roof of a loading dock.


“The blending of old and new really intrigued us about this project,” says Juntunen. “One of the most exciting things about precast is that regardless of the look you are trying to replicate, be it polished concrete, terra cotta, brick, mock sandstone, limestone, etc., we can replicate it with concrete for a maintenance free construction. The benefits of modern technology allow for a better building system with the same historic look.”

Wells was able to mimic the hand-laid approach of Pioneer’s original brick exterior, as well as match the new concrete to the color of the existing accents, window sills, etc. “While there is still some cleanup to do post-construction, it has become clear that the matching effect desired by the university and project design team is a huge success,” says Juntunen.


Wells’ work on the Pioneer Hall renovation is only the second project in the country to utilize 3D printing technology for precast. Another Mortarr subscriber, Gate Precast, had the first with their work on the Domino Sugar Refinery Project in Brooklyn, New York. Read more about that project here.


“The limits on design go down dramatically with 3D printing, because the geometry that used to be so difficult to build in forms can now be provided by a 3D Auto Cad drawing to a 3D printer,” says Juntunen. “The design capabilities are truly amazing. In addition, the quality of the end product is incredible.”

Wells Concrete is the largest precast provider in the upper Midwest. They design, manufacture and install structural and architectural precast solutions. Their team of 900 employees encompasses eight locations, which include four production plants, in Wells, Albany, Maple Grove, and Rosemount, Minn., Grand Forks and Fargo, N.D., Des Moines, Iowa, and Winnipeg, Manitoba.


Pioneer Hall’s renovations are spearheaded by KWK Architects, who partnered with architecture/engineering first-of-record TKDA. The contractor on the project is McGough Construction.


“This project really is a great opportunity to showcase the type of work Wells can do, and the innovations we are known for,” says Juntunen.


Pioneer Hall closed for renovations in the spring of 2017, with a goal to resume housing first year students in the fall of 2019.

The ghosts may be gone but the soul of the building lives on.

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Editor at The Forum, Mortarr

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